More on Races, Genders, and Brains

Reading Cordelia Fine’s most excellent work of popular neuroscience, Delusions of Gender, reminds me once again of the importance of opposing the reactionary scientism that has taken hold in increasingly large sections of the population.(1) This way of thinking manifests itself in a revival of many old stereotypes, clichés and damaging rigidities of cultural and social roles that once seemed on the verge of eradication, but are now back in vogue. What has given them a new lease on life is the supposed support they have in intuitive appeals to scientific knowledge and the bamboozling use of neurology, sophisticated statistical testing, and social psychology in order to underpin them. In the New Left period of Western politics it was seen as obvious that we would soon not only do away with racist and sexist structures and beliefs in our society, but overcome gender and race as parts of our conceptual apparatus altogether. Now very few indeed seem still to be interested in such a proposition of politics or even to deem it feasible. This is because the great counterrevolution in the West from the 1980s to now has been accompanied not only by a new pseudoscientific orthodoxy in economics and statecraft, but also in ideas about cultural norms and roles. ‘Scientific racism’, once seemingly utterly banished, is now making a creeping revival, and ‘scientific’ sexism is sold everywhere in mass market paperbacks. Few on the left, even in the radical parties and groups, make any real attempt at countering this or even providing a serious analysis of the arguments at hand. Instead, the focus is all too often on the outward sexist appearances of certain religious or cultural practices. This is justified enough of itself, but we must win the battle on all fronts, and that includes dispelling certain important ‘intuitions’ many people, even the middle class intelligentsia, now (again) have about gender and race. Continue reading “More on Races, Genders, and Brains”

Races and Brains

An important aspect of the newly emerging folk psychology, if that would be the right term, in America is the notion of a racial ladder: one which extends from ‘Asians’ at the top to ‘whites’ in the middle and ‘blacks’ at the bottom. Sometimes the argument is based on studies of IQ scores, other times the argument is based on anecdotal experiences about American colleges and universities, or about supposed Asian special aptitude for mathematics and natural sciences. These ideas are fairly widespread, and not limited purely to bar talk: even such supposedly hip ‘leftist’ magazines as Slate have contributed to it, and they are fairly prevalent at American universities too, including with the admissions departments.(1)(2) As in the Slate article, often these views are defended from accusations of racism by appealing to the fact that the folk psychology does not place whites at the top. Needless to say, this is not much of an argument, but it is commonly believed to be justified. Because of the nefarious nature of this notion, it is time to confront it with a basic understanding of statistics, which will quickly dispel most ideas of this kind. Continue reading “Races and Brains”